Email this articleE-mail this story  Letter to the EDITORWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

'Scooped at birth'

Report claims government taking newborn children away from mothers

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 30/02) - Child protection workers show up in hospital delivery rooms to apprehend babies -- a practice that compares to the "60s Scoop" when many aboriginal children were placed in foster care at birth, claims Arlene Hache, executive director of Yellowknife Women's Centre.

NNSL Photo

Arlene Hache and Fiona Traynor, representing the Centre for Northern Families, address a public meeting reviewing the Child and Family Services Act. - Merle Robillard/NNSL photo

Hache made the comments before a standing committee meeting reviewing proposed changes to the Child and Family Services Act Wednesday at the legislative assembly.

A report released at the meeting by the Women's Centre (now called the Centre for Northern Families) claims that's the way two new mothers were treated at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

In one case, protection workers met with the expectant mother before the birth and gave her the impression she was going to keep her baby. Then they showed up in the delivery room and told her at the hospital they planned to apprehend her baby. Her daughter was placed in a foster home with 12 to 14 other children for several months and only returned to her natural mother following a legal battle.

In the other case, Hache claims child protection workers came to the hospital and treated the mother like she didn't exist -- but in the end didn't even have the grounds to apprehend the baby.

Hache said social services is apprehending too many children, especially aboriginal children, and that the proposed changes to the Child and Family Services Act will lead to more unnecessary apprehensions.

"If we lower the bar it's going to send a flood of that very kind of activity happening in the Northwest Territories," she said.

The proposed changes to the Act include expanding the grounds on which a child may be considered to be in need of protection.

One controversial change switches the wording in some of these situations, allowing protection workers to apprehend children if they are "likely" to be at risk.

In the current act, the child must be at "substantial risk."

Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko agreed with Hache that the change to "likely" is dangerous.

Compared to residential school era

"A lot of times we pass legislation not knowing what implications it will have on the community," he said.

"This is the same attitude where children from communities were put on a barge and sent to Hay River (residential school) and didn't see their parents for five years. As a government, maybe we have to start looking at the root of the problem."

Committee member Jane Groenewegen cautioned against portraying extreme situations that create extreme reactions.

"I agree with a lot of what Arlene Hache has said. But for every situation you portray, there's a flip side to it."

Health and Social Services Minister Michael Miltenberger did not stay for the entire hearing.

Interviewed as was leaving, he said comparing the department's practices to the "60s Scoop" is inaccurate. "There is no conspiracy to unleash an orgy of apprehension."

He said the change of wording from substantial to likely protects the best interests of the child.

"So do you wait until something drastic happens or intercede before?" he asked, adding the department does wish to work with families.

The committee decided it needed more time before making any recommendation and will schedule another meeting to finish reviewing the bill.

Please see Monday's News/North for an in-depth article on one mother's struggle with the Department of Social Services to retain custody of her newborn child.